Graceless Education

What It Was, Is, and Should Be
Andrew Delbanco
Princeton University Press, $24.95, 240 pp.

When Andrew Delbanco, chair of American Studies at Columbia University, joined the faculty a quarter-century ago, he attended a meeting to discuss a budget crisis. The administration was recommending ending “need-blind admissions” as a cost-saving measure. The faculty were so disturbed by the suggestion that they voted by acclamation to give back a portion of their salary increase. Overcome with the spirit of solidarity, Delbanco joined the vote. Walking across campus after the meeting, the realization came to him that he had no idea what “need-blind admission” means. (It dictates that students must be admitted on academic credentials alone without any consideration of ability to pay. The opposite of “need-blind admissions” is “wealth-based admissions”—a practice not unknown in college budgeting past or present.)     

Delbanco’s reflections had results: “In the years following the meeting, I undertook to educate myself about American higher education...not just about admissions and financial aid, but about curriculum, teaching techniques, the financial structure of academic institutions, and more generally the premises and purposes of college education.” College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be demonstrates that he has done his homework. This is a brief, well-researched book, and an insightful account of the factors that shape the current higher educational landscape.

A book titled...

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About the Author

Dennis O’Brien, former president of the University of Rochester, is a longtime contributor to Commonweal.